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For the week of Jan. 12 through Jan. 18, 2000

Naval Academy is first class for Michael Albrecht

Home-schooled Annapolis senior plans to attend flight school


By JEFF CORDES
Express Staff Writer

Michael Albrecht admits it. He’s impressionable.

Watching the movie Top Gun was the one single thing that got him excited about the prospect of flying fighter and attack planes.

"Top Gun got me," he said.

Then there was the gift his parents gave him for his 13th birthday—a half-hour training flight over the mountains in the Salmon area.

Making those adolescent dreams of being airborne become a reality is another thing, however.

It’s been hard work, bends in the road and detours, and hours of book study for Michael Albrecht, 24, whose itinerant family has most recently lived in Picabo.

Having been home schooled, Albrecht took a somewhat different and longer path into the Naval Academy, compared to students who graduate from public or private schools.

But now he’s a senior, or, more accurately, Albrecht has attained the rank of first class midshipman in the Class of 2000 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

On May 20, 2000, Albrecht will graduate with 971 of his fellow class members and be commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy.

His order of merit, or class ranking based on grades, military performance and physical testing, places Albrecht in the top third of his class—a quality point rating equal to a 3.3 grade point average.

Though he never had a computer before being issued one as a first-year plebe at Annapolis, Albrecht has become a whiz at networks and is majoring in Computer Science.

After graduation, Albrecht wants to become a Navy pilot. Early in February 2000, he’ll find out if he has attained his preferred first choice of attending flight school.

His parents, Evelyn and Mark Albrecht, are proud of their son. So are his younger sisters, Emily, 15, and Rebecca, 13. Helping Michael fulfill his dreams has been a family effort.

"It’s been tough, but the payoff at the end is worth it," said Michael.

One fringe benefit of being a midshipman came over the Christmas holiday when Albrecht attended the second annual Idaho All Service Academy Ball held Dec. 27 at the Doubletree Riverside in Garden City.

He was one of about 30 Idaho cadets from five U.S. service academies at the formal gala presided over by Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

Wearing his military uniform, Albrecht got to do some of the introductions in front of the audience of 300 people. And he renewed his acquaintance with Gov. Kempthorne, whom Michael met during his plebe or freshman year at Annapolis.

In addition, Albrecht and fellow Naval Academy student Jon Vanbragt of Ketchum spent a day over the Thanksgiving holiday talking to students in 15 different classes at Twin Falls High School.

Not only did they impart some of their knowledge to the high school students, they earned three extra days of leave for their effort.

And extra leave is always desirable for a military person like Michael Albrecht. His life is more structured than the average 24-year-old, but that’s not a bad thing.

For instance, he’s got 30 days of leave coming right after graduation, but he’ll probably start working right away in Annapolis on Temporary Active Duty.

He plans to get married in October in Boise to 17-year-old Sky Bergdahl, another home-schooled student who is the daughter of Jani and Bob Bergdahl of Croy Creek.

Michael is looking at entering flight school in late November or early December 2000.

Becoming a fighter pilot takes roughly three years, starting with a two-month stint at Whiting Air Field about 20 miles east of Pensacola, Fla. He will spend six months to a year in Pensacola flying training planes.

You get your wings as a fighter pilot after three years, but you have to commit a total of seven years of your life to the program.

That’s because the lure of $80,000 a year starting salaries for pilots in the private sector is strong, and the U.S. Navy wants to make sure that all the money it has spent on educating pilots like Albrecht isn’t wasted.

So far it hasn’t been wasted on Michael Albrecht.

The government rates the value of each individual education at the U.S. Naval Academy at roughly $180,000 for four years, Albrecht said.

Albrecht started seeing some dollar signs after his sophomore or youngster year, when his grade of "A" in Data Structures class qualified him for the offer of an $80,000 starting position in computer programming in the Washington, D.C. area.

That’s when he made his decision.

He said, "I decided I wanted to fly, I wanted to have some fun."

 

 

Moving around

Life hasn’t been a bed of roses for the Albrecht family.

Michael’s father Mark Albrecht is a social worker most recently employed by Idaho Health and Welfare in child protection. The family has moved around quite a bit.

Michael was born in Illinois. His family lived in Wenatchee, Ellensburg and Cheney in Washington State. In the woods outside of Salmon. Three or four different places in Hailey. In Picabo. And Michael spent his senior year in Juneau, Ak.

He went to Christian school for a year in Garden Valley and spent a year in public school in gifted classes.

"I was home schooled my last three years in high school, mainly because we were moving around so much," Michael said. "My mom was real good at science, engineering and math, and my dad was good in the humanities, so they complemented each other very well."

The self-study curriculum in home schooling really improved his study habits, Michael said. Being home schooled was drawback, however, when it came to applying to college.

"It took me four years of applying to get to the Naval Academy, mainly because I was home schooled," he said. "They didn’t seem to know what to do with home-schooled kids.

"When I first went to Annapolis, I thought I was the only one who was home schooled. But I learned there were a few others."

Albrecht’s first step to the Naval Academy after his 12th-grade year of high school was attending Trinity Bible School in Ellendale, N.D.

There he played a little football and obtained his GED and corrected one of the problems—not having a high school diploma.

He worked a year in construction in the Blackfoot area. One day, he walked into the U.S. Navy Recruiting office in Idaho Falls and asked, point blank, "what’s the fastest way to get into the Naval Academy?"

"Well, they pull a lot from Nuclear Power School," he was told.

So Albrecht enlisted in the U.S. Navy, took the test for Nuclear Power School and went to boot camp at Orlando, Fla. He did well there.

He graduated at the top of his class in "A" school for machinists, then graduated seventh out of 250 in Power School, designed to study power plants. During that time, he kept applying to the Naval Academy.

"My home school packet was thick and comprehensive," he said. "Finally they looked at everything and decided to give me a chance."

He paid his $2,000 entry fee to help pay for uniforms, books and laundry services. The education itself has been essentially free, and he’s made $700 a month as a midshipman.

Michael has plowed his way through Chemistry, Calculus, Physics and Engineering classes. He has just finished his senior-year Thermodynamics and Steam classes.

His major is Computer Science. He is overloaded this year with courses like Advanced Networks and Advanced Software Engineering, Algorithms and Network Security.

For supplemental income, he intends to launch a home page with the domain name of Entertainmentdeals.com, acting as a middleman by providing links and advertising.

The 6-2, 220-pounder with the required 20-20 vision for fighter pilots has spent a summer based on the USS Fife in Everett, Wash. He’s been to Quantico and Pensacola.

But the summer before his senior year was the most memorable.

Stationed on the amphibious carrier USS Belleau Wood at Sasebo, Japan, Michael traveled and saw a lot of that country. More importantly, he spent a month in Virginia flying Hornet FA-18 fighter and attack planes.

"I had 20 minutes of stick time flying in formation off another plane. It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s challenging. But it sold me on flying. I decided that’s what I want to do," said Albrecht.

And, if all goes according to plan, that’s where Michael will be when he attends flight school later this year.

In the meantime, he’ll enjoy the rest of his demanding senior year at Annapolis, where he is treasurer of the racquetball club he helped form.

He laughed, "I spent four years applying to Annapolis, and I figure I only have to spend four years here."

 

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